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Dispute Between Military, Morsi Supporters Flares In Egypt


This is morning edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene. There are mass protests today in two of the crucibles of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, thousands are demonstrating after the assassination of a leading opposition figure. And we'll have more on that in a moment. First to Egypt, where rival protests are underway. Tens of thousands of opponents and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are on the streets. Morsi has not been seen since he was removed from power in a military coup earlier this month, but this morning there is now news of the charges that he could be facing. To learn more we turn to NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel. Leila, what do we know about Morsi this morning and these potential charges?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, basically the investigative judge in charge of this case has remanded him to custody for 15 days. That being said, he's already been detained since he was overthrown on July 3. And the accusations are that he collaborated with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to get out of prison, along with dozens of other Brotherhood leaders, that he attacked police stations, that he killed police officers. All of these accusations date back to the 2011 uprising against Mubarak's regime.

This is the first legal reason given to Morsi's detention. There's been a huge amount of international pressure, actually, to release him.

GREENE: So Leila, these charges, I mean they're pointing back to what was a very chaotic time.

FADEL: Yeah. A lot of the charges seem to refer to the January 2011 uprising when people were fighting street battles with the police. Police stations were being attacked across the country. People like Mohammed Morsi and others broke out of prison. Many observers are saying that these charges seem trumped up, a way to keep this former head of state in prison.

GREENE: Okay. And let's try and understand what exactly is playing out in Egypt. Now this week the nation's military chief actually asking Egyptians to take to the streets to give the police an army, a mandate to fight, what he's calling violence and terrorism. And the Islamists and Morsi supporters are really feeling like this is a declaration of civil war, as they put it.

FADEL: Right. It was really a shocking moment for people, for observers, for Egyptians, where the military, which is a hugely popular institution here in Egypt, despite its many missteps and human rights abuses that occurred under its own leadership. It's hugely popular and the military chief, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, told the people I've never asked you for anything, now go to the streets.

And also in that moment he really transformed what was a political stalemate, a national dispute that had turned violent in the streets, into what now he's calling a war on terrorism, the war on terrorism being used by him and his supporters as a blanket sort of remark about Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

So there's a real fear here that this will go from protests today, rival protests, to a serious crackdown in the coming days from the security forces after what they see as a popular mandate given to them.

GREENE: Leila, so this unusual call made by the military chief for demonstrations, what exactly are we expecting to see on the streets today?

FADEL: Well, we're going to see rival protests once again. After Sisi's call, supporters of the president immediately called for rival protests to fill every public square. And the pattern we've been seeing since the ouster of Morsi is when these rival protests go to the streets and come in contact with each other, people die. And we've seen that both sides have guns, and so people are really bracing for a possibly violent day.

GREENE: So Leila, let's just bring all this together. We have planned charges against the ousted Islamist leader, Mohammed Morsi. We have the military chief in charge now calling for people to take to the streets. What's the way out here? I mean it seems like we're really going down a road where there's going to be a lot of tension in this country.

FADEL: Right. And that's a great question because I think right now nobody really knows what the way out is. The Muslim Brotherhood, supporters of Mohammed Morsi, really buckling down saying they won't back off their demands. They feel that the president must be released and reinstated, the constitution reinstated, the Shura council, the upper house of parliament reinstated, all those things very unlikely.

The military also using the street now to pressure the Brotherhood back, saying, you know, help us protect you. Come to the streets and say it's okay. So the way out is really unclear. What many people fear is that this may go down the path that we've seen before in the '90s and under past dictators here in Egypt, that serious repression of the Islamists will be the next step and possibly an insurgency as a result.

GREENE: All right, Leila, we'll be following up with you as this story develops. NPR's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel. Leila, thanks a lot.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.